On New Years Day 1968 automotive evolution changed forever, some say it was more the beginning of devolution. On that day a short list of U.S. federal safety and emissions standards took effect, and auto engineering shifted from engineers to politicians and bureaucrats. It’s been a mixed bag of regulations since- While engines are both cleaner and make more power than ever, cars have become aerodynamic battering rams to meet crash test requirements. All but gone is the crispness and responsiveness of unassisted steering and brakes. Instead of the simple protection of shoulder harnesses and disc brakes, we’ve been overwhelmed by a horde of “safety” systems trying to second guess us in a quest to save us from ourselves.

The devolution was slow… 1968 saw the Mini’s green card pulled and a lot of high performance options disappeared. Within a few years battering ram bumpers ruined the handling and looks of most every car, while once mighty engines wheezed and coughed under smog controls. Within a decade automotive stars like the Lotus Europa and bit players like the Saab 96 and Spitfire went dark. The once mighty Corvettes and Mustangs slowly soldiered on while muscle cars became caricatures of themselves if available at all. By the 80s performance was such a “bad word” that GM tried to sell the mid engine Fiero sports car as an “economy car”, and Corvettes of that era are considered pretty much expendable.

Today you can buy a 21st century muscle cars like the Ford Focus RS or VW Golf R that will run rings around most any 60s muscle car. A plethora of 60s muscle and pony cars could be had new for $3000 or less, barely a few hundred bucks more than the price of a stripped sedan with a 6 and 3 on the tree… Today, that Focus RS or Golf R is over twice the price of a base model equivalent.

And they call that progress?